Sunday, May 4, 2014

No One Knows The Hour (part 20)

Though it is not mentioned in Mark or Luke, the notion of Jesus’ coming, as it frames the discourse on offer by Jesus and influences the way that Matthew’s twenty-fourth chapter is read and perceived, is something with which any study of this topic also must deal.  Much as one tends to hear “end of the age” in the light of “end of the world” sensibilities, there is also a tendency to hear speech about the coming of Jesus in terms of His coming to earth from heaven.  This is a natural inclination because of reading that takes place post-ascension, and because, being inhabitants of this world whereas Jesus is off in heaven somewhere, any talk of Jesus’ coming must be talk of Him coming from heaven to earth. 

Now before even addressing the issue, as best as is possible from the mindset of a first century Jew, one must look at this issue as a matter of common sense.  When Jesus speaks in terms of not being seen until He comes, He is alive and kicking.  He is there.  He has not gone anywhere.  Remember, these things demand to be heard in their narratival context.  Though Jesus has made mention of His death and Resurrection, such as is found in the seventeenth chapter of Matthew when He says “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.  They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised” (17:22b-23a), this isn’t exactly something that is clearly understood by His disciples.  In fact, Matthew says “they became greatly distressed” (17:23b).  Prior to that, in the sixteenth chapter, when Jesus says something similar, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (16:22a). 

So then, returning to the realm of common sense, since Jesus is with them when He says these things---He has not been crucified or resurrected and He has not ascended into heaven (though this written record does come after all of these things have taken place), one simply cannot have the disciples presuming these things as part of their query.  Such would be absurd.  While the hearers heard it and readers read it with knowledge of these things, the narrative does not push the audience of the story to hear the disciples’ question as post-earthly-life-and-ministry of Jesus. 

Yes, this can become convoluted and confusing, but it is incumbent upon on an erstwhile reader of Scripture to best attempt to inhabit the story as it is on offer, positioning oneself to hear Jesus live and in person, as one of His disciples.  Doing that, one is then not posing a question to Jesus about His coming, and doing so from a post-ascension perspective that has Jesus coming back to earth.  That would merely gets things out of order.  At this point, as far as His disciples are concerned and from their perspective, Jesus is with them and Jesus is not going anywhere.  Thus any talk of His coming cannot be about His coming to earth.  There must be an altogether different point of reference. 

Yes, He’s talked about His coming death and resurrection, but one cannot force the disciples to have already come to terms with what those words truly meant.  In fact, this is where Luke provides a wonderful glimpse into the mindset of the disciples of Jesus through His Emmaus-road presentation in chapter twenty-four of His gospel.  There, downhearted and dejected disciples, who were clearly struggling to cope with Jesus’ death and what it meant, say “we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21a). 

Not only was there no expectation of a resurrection, though Jesus has been reported to have spoken in advance of His being raised, there was certainly no hope or expectation of an ascension, and there was obviously no prevailing ideology that had Jesus returning to earth from heaven after an unexpected crucifixion, unexpected resurrection, and unexpected ascension.  As far as those Emmaus road disciples knew, Jesus was dead.  So in terms of rightly dealing with Matthew’s narrative, the movement of the story does not allow for a reader or the disciples themselves injecting a hoped-for return of Jesus to earth into their question about His coming.  It simply does not fit.

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